Kevin Bryan record reviews

Our merry master of the wheels of steel presents his favourite flavours

Mick Harvey,”Four (Acts of Love)” (Mute CDSTUMM353)-The multi-talented Mr Harvey is best known over here for his collaborations with Nick Cave and namesake P.J.Harvey, but the Australian singer,songwriter and producer has also recorded several impressive solo albums in recent years,and his latest skilfully crafted offering serves up an enjoyable blend of original material and stylish re-vamps. Mick’s imaginative song cycle explores the mystery of love via newly minted arrangements of moving ditties such as Van Morrison’s “The Way Young Lovers Do” and Roy Orbison’s “Wild Hearts(Run Out Of Time),” and he also indulges in a spot of Birthday Party styled punk-jazz with a stand-out cover of Exuma’s “Summertime in New York.”

Vladimir Ashkenazy,”The Art of Ashkenazy” (Decca 466 4622)- This sublime keyboard collection first saw the light of day in 1999.capturing the Russian pianist at his brilliant best as he tackled pieces by such giants of the genre as Chopin,Schubert,Mozart and Beethoven. Sergei Rachmaninov’s contribution to this archive anthology was also central to its success, with Ashkenazy breathing new life into the composer’s “Piano Concerto No.2” and three shorter extracts from the great man’s repertoire,including a 1986 recording of his much loved “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”

James Gang,”New Born” (Cherry Red / Lemon CDLEM 217)- This gutsy Ohio outfit went through a constant stream of line-up changes during their decade or so together,but they’re best remembered these days for providing an early outlet for the erratic brilliance of Joe Walsh before the guitarist went on to find fame and fortune with The Eagles. The James Gang were very much on their last legs by the time that “New Born” was released in 1975, but aided and abetted by legendary producer Tom Dowd they managed to assemble a solid if uninspired rock package for their Atlantic Records debut ,including gritty gems such as “Merry-Go-Round” and “Earthshaker” alongside a robust revamp of “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Runrig, “Stepping Down The Glory Road” (Chrysalis Records)- Weighty archive anthologies are all the rage these days, and this invigorating 6CD set is one of the best that I’ve come across recently. As a showcase for Runrig’s distinctively Celtic brand of rock it’s well nigh irresistible, bringing together the entire contents of the six albums that the Scottish outfit recorded for Chrysalis during the early eighties and early nineties,along with associated singles and EPs. Runrig were also very successful in Denmark and Germany during this period, and rabble-rousing tracks such as “Protect and Survive,” “Alba” and their live singalong version of “Loch Lomond” capture the essence of the band’s unique appeal.

The Polyphonic Spree, “Yes, It’s True” (Cherry Red CDBRED 588)-The Texan oddballs’ tuneful brand of life-affirming choral pop-rock first won the hearts of British audiences when they appeared at David Bowie’s Meltdown a decade or so ago,and “Yes It’s True” marks the 22 strong outfit’s first new album of original material since 2007’s “The Fragile Army.” Creative mainstay Tim DeLaughter has concocted a typically diverse and upbeat collection for your listening pleasure, with “You Don’t Know Me,” “Popular By Design” and “Battlefield” emerging as the best of an eclectic bunch.